‘My house purchase is on the brink of collapse because of a cyber attack’

House Sale
House Sale

Homebuyers have been hit with delays following a cyber attack on an IT company used by hundreds of property conveyancers.

Tech firm CTS was targeted by hackers last Wednesday in an outage that has led its systems, used by as many as 200 firms, being down for almost a week and potentially throwing thousands of deals into doubt.

Sarah Grant, who began the process of downsizing from a five bedroom property in Otford, Kent, in January, had been due to move into her new property on Monday – however her completion date has now been postponed, with no alternative date scheduled.

The 65-year-old image consultant had already accepted a £900,000 offer and exchanged contracts with the buyer earlier this month. She was only made aware of the delay at 6pm last Friday by her solicitor, Taylor Rose who gave “no ETA” as to when the issue would be resolved.

Now living in an Airbnb without access to much of her clothes and possessions, she fears that a planned family gathering over Christmas in her new house will not be able to happen. “I’ve been crying,” she said.

“I have no clothes, it’s absolutely impossible to get it from storage,” she said. “It has been the biggest nightmare. We are just left not knowing. It’s left this numb feeling, I’m angry.”

Sarah Grant
Sarah Grant, 65, fears that a planned family gathering over Christmas in her new house will not be able to happen in wake of the cyber attack - Sarah Grant

Taylor Rose proposed a licence agreement whereby Ms Grant could live in her new home for a period of time until the purchase went through, but it is understood this could not go ahead because of objections from the seller.

This sale is being held up because Cavendish, another law firm involved in the chain, has been affected by the attack.

On Friday, the company told the buyers of Ms Grant’s property that it did not have access to emails due to the intrusion, and would likely not be able to process the sale. They have also been in limbo ever since.

“Our contract says we were supposed to complete on Monday 27th, so now the whole chain has been breached,” the buyers said.

“We sent the 10pc deposit and the stamp duty and we just don’t know if it is safe,” she said.

“Every day we speak to someone who says hopefully tomorrow, hopefully tomorrow. But I am losing hope to be honest.”

All of the moves in their four-part chain are suspended indefinitely until the issue can be fixed. On Monday, Cavendish already had a backlog of 200 completions.

Conveyancers have been accused of failing to communicate with clients on the severity of the attack, which has forced some firms to go back to using pen and paper.

‘Our tenancy is running out’

First-time buyer Charlotte who lives in Pershore, Worcestershire, said that conveyancer Talbots Law failed to inform her she would be unable to complete on her new house after its systems were shut off in the attack.

She said she only learned of the outage on X, formerly Twitter, after initially not receiving “any information at all” from the firm as to why her purchase had been delayed.

“They just said their services were down, which I thought was their internet,” she said.

The 29-year-old planning consultant said she then contacted her bank to discover her mortgage application had not been finalised by Talbots and was told it would not be possible to do so before Friday next week, when she is due to complete.

Together with her partner and step daughter, the family had been looking forward to spending their first Christmas in their new house, but now fear they will not be able to move in before a tenancy for their current rented home ends.

“I’m very concerned. Our tenancy runs out on December 17 and I’m not sure what I’m going to do if we don’t get the house,” said Ms Barry.

Another person moving house, in a sale chain in London, said their plans were put on hold when their buyer’s property sale stalled because conveyancer Taylor Rose’s systems had been left paralysed.

They said they were due to complete on Friday, but had to extend their mortgage arrangements until Monday because of the delay.

“I have a mortgage offer which was from Barclays. We got an extension to Monday but we had to return the funds.

“I fear the unknown. We have had zero communication, we were in a position to complete. I had removal men outside my house,” said the buyer, who wished to remain anonymous.

CTS provides cloud space and IT systems such as emails for firms including legal companies.

Industry sources last week told The Telegraph the attack was widely believed to be the result of a flaw in Citrix, a software program that is used by CTS.

The so-called CitrixBleed bug has been exploited by LockBit, a Russian-speaking hacking gang, according to CISA, the US cyber security agency.

LockBit’s software, which it also outsources to other hacking groups, freezes access to critical data. The gang often threatens to publish it if the victim does not pay out.

The LockBit gang was behind a hack on Royal Mail earlier this year that paralysed the postal service’s overseas parcel deliveries and led to a £66m ransom demand that the company refused to pay.

The LockBit gang was behind a hack on Royal Mail earlier this year that paralysed the postal service’s overseas parcel deliveries and led to a £66m ransom demand that the company refused to pay.

A spokesman for CTS said that the outage of their IT systems, first reported to have affected 80 conveyancers, was in the process of being fixed, though he would not give an updated number on the amount of impacted firms nor a date when it would be resolved.

But as many as 200 firms could be affected by the outage, according to a document seen by the BBC.

‘Delays and uncertainty’

Sarah Dwight, an independent conveyancer, said that moving house for many people would now take “much longer” as a result of the cyber attack. “There’s uncertainty and there’s quite a lot of nervousness about it.”

She said the impact may have been worse for firms who do not have paper records, or use the same software for all of their work.

“When you put it all in one place, there is a danger,” she said.

“From what I understand some of the firms are now getting manual systems up and running to allow people to move who have already exchanged,” she added.

CTS did not comment further on the outage of their systems when asked, but currently says on its website that it is “experiencing a service outage which has impacted a portion of the services we deliver to some of our clients.”

It adds: “The outage was caused by a cyber-incident. We are working closely with a leading global cyber forensics firm to help us with an urgent investigation into the incident and to assist us in service restoration.”

Dave Hodgetts, CEO of Talbots Law, said:  “Our top priority is to act in the best interests of our clients and as we have not had access to our systems since last Wednesday, it would be negligent for us to exchange and complete on a property without being able to check for outstanding issues on the file.

“To do so would pose a much greater, unnecessary risk to our clients.  Where properties are already exchanged we are still completing all of these transactions, with our team working tirelessly to achieve it.”

He added: “We are in close communication with CTS and are hopeful that systems will be restored shortly.”

A spokesperson for Taylor Rose MW said: “We have found alternative solutions to deal with urgent conveyancing completions and have successfully completed the vast majority of those due since the outset of this disruption, where they are within our control.”


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